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So, You Want to Know About the Salem Witch Trials – Part Four – Individual Lives Affected
Giles and Martha Cory– Martha, was the first bystander who drew the attention of the afflicted. She had a checkered past because she had once given birth to an illegitimate biracial child. Martha didn’t want anything to do with the whole affair, so she hid her husband’s saddle to prevent him from going to the examination of Tituba and the two Sarah’s. Within the week, Ann Putnam Jr. accused Martha of being a witch.
Her arrest warrant was written on a Saturday, and because no business could be conducted until Monday, Martha remained free for the weekend. She stubbornly showed up for the Sunday meeting, drawing attention to herself and causing the girls to go into a rousting fit. Giles, wondering if his wife might just be a witch, offered his opinion and testimony. His chief complaint was that she spent too much time muttering to herself in prayer, but she could be a witch, for all he knew, she certainly was grumpy enough for the role. Later, when Giles was accused of witchcraft, he apologized, saying he “had ‘broken charity’ with Martha in believing the word of a pack of lying girls against her.” Giles knew that all of the other people accused of witchcraft so far had been found guilty and hanged, so he decided it would do him no good to stand trial. A convicted witch had no right to property, and Giles owned a sizeable amount of property. While in jail he deeded his estate to the two sons in law who stood by him and Martha during the trials, and refused to speak. According to the diary of Samuel Sewall, “September 19: About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press’d to death for standing Mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain.” A common tale is that Giles said nothing during his torture except “more weight,” but there is no evidence to support the story. Either way, Giles had his wish, “So it was that though the sheriff slowly crushed the last breath out of the massive body, he could not make a condemned wizard out of old Giles.” Because Giles was not convicted of witchcraft, the sheriff could not seize his property and it stayed in the family. Giles Cory has the unfortunate standing in history for being the one and only death by pressing ever in New England. The pressing took place in an open field, and people were rattled to see the 80 year old slowly dying under a heap of large stones.
The sheriff, unaware of the growing sentiment, made matters worse by rudely using the end of his cane to shove Giles’ bulging tongue back into his mouth. The method was straight out of the Old English playbook, but most of these people were born in America. Thomas Putnam caught wind of the growing discord and quickly penned a letter claiming Ann had a vision of “a man in a Winding Sheet; who told her that Giles Cory had Murdered him, by Pressing him to Death with his Feet; but that the Devil there appeared unto him, and Covenanted with him, and promised him, He should not be Hanged.” According to Thomas Putnam, not only was Ann a witch finder, but an angel of fate, and if it wasn’t for her diligence, Old Giles would have gotten away with pressing that poor servant boy to death. Martha was hanged three days later, on September 22. The change of attitude was beginning to show, however, and the vote to excommunicate her from the Salem Village congregation was not unanimous.
Rebecca Nurse was accused directly after Martha. Rebecca was a respected member of the community, but her mother had been accused of witchcraft in the past. Rebecca was a nearly deaf elderly woman with a large, loving family. She was one of the unfortunate Towne sisters who were all arrested for witchcraft. The three proved themselves ladies of true class and honor. After hearing the evidence, the jury came back that Rebecca was innocent, and the judge ordered them to go back and think about it again. This time they came back with a guilty verdict. Rebecca was taken back to her beloved meetinghouse one last time so that she could be publicly excommunicated by Nicholas Noyes from Salem Town church, and then she was hanged.
John and Elizabeth Procter-He was the voice of reason in a sea of confusion. He thought all the afflicted girls deserved a good spanking, and the wench who was living in his home, Mary Warren, was getting cured right and fine with his firm hand. He didn’t want Mary to have any part of the examinations, but he was forced to let her participate. His obstruction smelled suspicious and his pregnant wife was soon accused. He was more than angry now. What in God’s name was the town thinking by putting the weight of a criminal investigation in the hands of young, disturbed children? Surely, someone besides him could see the insanity in this situation. He was sentenced to hang. His wife, being pregnant, got a stay of execution, and the voice of reason stepped in before her death sentence was carried out. She delivered a son after John’s death.
Sarah Cloyce was so darn angry she walked out of church and slammed the door. Her sister, Rebecca had just been taken for witchcraft, and Samuel Parris was giving an explanatory sermon about the betrayer in Jesus’ midst, and how close the devil had gotten to the heart of the church. Of course the devil wouldn’t waste time trying to tempt the slouches of society like Sarah Good, he was going to go right for the jugular and turn the hearts of God’s most loyal followers. Because of her outburst, Sarah was accused, but her trial was to come after the panic subsided and the charges against her were dropped. She was only Towne sister to avoid hanging, and died in 1703 at the age of 62.
Bridget Bishop had a bad reputation over in Salem Town, and the girls were able to identify her, though they had never seen her before. A number of people testified against Bridget; she had once paid a man with money that disappeared, and a few men even claimed her specter haunted them in the night while they were in bed. A man named Samuel Gray testified she had killed his son, though he admitted to lying about the matter when he was on his deathbed. The decision-makers still hadn’t quite figured out what to do about spectral evidence, so they tried Bridget first because she had the most evidence against her besides just the afflicted girls. Bridget was the first person to be executed on June 10.
Abigail Hobbs was the black sheep of her family, quick with her foul mouth, choosing to spend most nights in the forest. She immediately confessed to anything and everything she was accused of, sometimes following the afflicted’s storyline, sometimes making up new information on her own.
Sarah and Edward Bishop owned an unlicensed tavern, much to the chagrin of their neighbors. Sarah was accused of witchcraft because a woman become so angry at the shuffleboard games going on late into the night at the tavern and thrown the game into the fire. Later, this woman was found dead, her throat slashed (now thought to be a suicide). Edward was already under suspicion just being the family member of an accused witch, but he made matters worse when he hit John Indian with a stick during one of his fits, and announced he thought all of the afflicted could be cured in the same manner.
Mary and Philip English-Her mother was granted license for a tavern, which was highly unusual in those days. At first, the girls named Mary’s mother, not realizing she was dead. Mary was married to a wealthy Salem merchant who was the first of his kind to trade internationally. He was also elected to the board of selectman, against Putnam. He was able to avoid arrest for a time, but he and his wife were eventually caught and held prisoner until they escaped. After the trials were over, Mr. English repeatedly petitioned for monetary compensation for all he had lost, but he died before any was ever made. His sworn enemy was Sheriff Corwin and Mr. English made it clear he only wished he could take it out of Corwin’s dead body.
Deliverance Hobbs was the embarrassed mother of Abigail. She began the examination by claiming innocence, but was led into admitting she had signed the book. She proved a valuable witch to the accusers, making a detailed statement about witches meetings in Parris’ field, and embellishing about the devil and other witches. She claimed the “minister,” of these meetings in the field was none other than George Burroughs.
The two Mary’s, Easty and Herrick– Mary Easty was one of the Towne girls, as sisters Rebecca, Sarah, and Mary were called. She made such an impression on the jailors, they brought her straight back to the magistrates and offered the opinion she could not possibly be a witch. Even Hathorne had to question the legitimacy of her accusation, but was answered by such a fit from the afflicted, he changed his mind. Before her death, Mary wrote a heartfelt note on the behalf of the others who were accused. In her letter, she suggested the afflicted girls be kept apart for a little while. The spirit of Mary Easty helped to put an end to the whole debacle. Seventeen year old Mary Herrick, a girl of genuine spirit, told of a visit she had from the “Shape” of the dead Mary Easty and the wife of Jonathan Hale, minister of Beverly. Mary Easty watched on while Mrs. Hale pinched and poked the girl. Mary Easty had appeared to Herrick once before on September 22, when she informed the terrified girl she was going to be hanged today, but she was innocent, and the girl would know it for sure before another year passed. Mary Herrick was frightened, but she didn’t want to get involved and didn’t mention it. Now, Mary had come back after death, and told Mary Herrick to “reveal this to Mr. Hale and Mr. Gerrish and then she would rise no more, nor should Mrs. Hale afflict her.” Mary Herrick did as instructed and, true to her word, Mary Easty left her alone.
George Burroughs and his family lived with the Putnam’s for a while when he was minister of Salem Village. The Putnam’s claimed he mistreated his wife and forbid her to talk about family matters, or contact her family. Ann Putnam claimed to have a vision in which he tried to get her to sign the book, and if that weren’t enough, he was charged with killing not only his first two wives, but the wife and child of Deodat Lawson, another minister, as well. Before his hanging, in front of the audience, he said a meaningful prayer, and then proceeded to give an enlightening rendition of “Our Father.” The crowd began to openly question Burroughs’s guilt. Didn’t they hear somewhere that a witch could not recite the Lord’s Prayer like that? Cotton Mather, resident self-proclaimed expert on the subject, sensing the growing doubt, told the crowd the devil, at times, can appear like the glint of Heaven. Cotton was to later feel as if all the blame fell on him because of that moment, and wished he’d never heard the name of Burroughs’s.
Susannah Martin-She also appeared in the bedrooms of frustrated men and had been suspected of witchcraft for some time. She is notable because during her examination she brought up the fact that in the Bible, Saul goes to visit a witch to consult the ghost of Samuel. The witch produced a vision of Samuel, but it was really the devil. This got people to thinking, couldn’t the devil take the shape of the innocent, and if he could, how reliable was spectral evidence? Susannah also said outright she believed the girls were not afflicted. Susannah was one of those who were accused after many of the others, but went to trial early because of all of the non-afflicted people willing to testify against her. She was hanged on July 19.
Lydia Dustin– at 65 years old, also had a long history of being thought a witch. Though she was to eventually be acquitted, she had to remain in jail until her fines were paid. They never were, and she died in jail an innocent woman.
George and Margaret Jacobs-Margaret Jacobs had lived in Maine and seen her parents murdered by Indians before going to live with her 70 year old grandfather, George. During his examination, George argued the devil could take the shape of any person, but Hathorne retorted that the person would have to give the devil permission. George maintained his innocence, but in the isolation of jail, Margaret, somewhere between the age of 10 and 16, was urged to make a confession under threat of hanging. She admitted to being a witch and accused her grandfather and George Burroughs. Eventually, she tried to recant her confession, in her words, “choosing rather death and a quiet conscience, than to live in such horror, which I could not suffer.” The magistrates did not believe her and sent her back to prison to change her mind. She never did, even though she felt for certain she would be hanged. She talked with George Burroughs, who forgave her for using his name in her confession and prayed with her. She was saved from hanging because she fell ill when she was supposed to go to trial, but she was to remain in jail for more than a year because she didn’t have the money to pay her jail expense. A caring stranger came forward to pay her fees. Her grandfather was so proud of her for recanting her confession, he had his will changed to provide for her, though the property and wish of a convicted witch was worth less than the paper it was written on. After his hanging, George’s family recovered his body, burying him on their property in an unmarked grave to avoid vandals. His remains were discovered years later, and Salem gave him a proper burial. His words, “Well! Burn me or hang me, I will stand in the truth of Christ,” are engraved on his headstone.
Elizabeth and Nathaniel Cary– Her name had been coming out for a while, and her husband, a wealthy man, decided to bring her in to declare her innocence, wrongly assuming that because he was a man of some power, his opinion would be heard. He kept good records of the whole affair regarding his wife, and much valuable information has been gleaned from it. He described the “touch test,” and also accounts of a meeting with John Indian (who showed Cary the scars from previous “witch attacks”), and gave future generations a vivid picture of the times. Once he realized he could not keep his wife from being accused, “Cary then tried to save her life by every means within the law.” Nathaniel is the first person who used the law against itself, and obtained a writ, to have her moved to a jail near their home. During her examination in Salem, he realized his wife would not win, so he tried to have the trial moved to his district, to no avail. He then decided to do a jail break, and he and his wife took off to New York and stayed with the governor. In time, after the ruckus of the trials died down, Nathaniel would serve as a justice in the General Court.
John Alden– His parents came on the Mayflower. Now, at 70, a pillar of the community, a war hero, a practical legend, he is accused. He later referred to the fits as “juggling tricks.” One of the girls identified him even though she had never seen him because, “the man told her so.” The magistrate wasn’t convinced, and had the whole crew go outside so they could see him more clearly to make sure it was him. The afflicted made a ring around him and taunted him for being a bold man who sold arms to the Indians and made babies with squaws. This is when it becomes obvious an adult was feeding the girls information. Most people think it was Thomas Putnam. Alden also escaped, but was eventually caught and brought back to jail. He was cleared when no one showed up to say anything against him. He wrote an account of the trials a few years later.
Elizabeth Howe was another on the long list of Putnam land dispute/resentment/ list. Some submitted reports against her, but just as many petitioned on her side. Elizabeth took one of the girls who was having a fit by the hand and in a rare moment, the girl changed her story and admitted Elizabeth had never hurt her. This had no effect, and she was hanged on July 19.
Martha Carrier, the first of the Andover witches; Martha had a bad reputation. She was not the demure type, and angry for being accused. Her eight year old daughter testified to having been a witch since the age of six, converted by her mother, who could take the form of a cat. Evidence against her, besides the “fits” was the testimony of confessed witches, who claimed the devil had promised to make her “queen of Hell.” Neighbors came to testify that Martha had somehow haunted them; a young girl heard Martha’s disembodied voice in the woods; an old man had an argument with Martha and got sick. During her trial, as the girls were writhing around on the floor, shrieking and wailing, they saw thirteen ghosts of the people she killed floating about the room, Martha looked to the judge and said, “It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits.” She hanged on August 19.
Samuel Wardwell was one of the most imaginative of the confessed witches, going into detail about being baptized by the devil in the river. He said he joined the devil because he was promised that all men would be treated equal. It is almost as if Samuel took the whole thing as a joke, at first. He recanted his confession and was hanged on September 22.
Susannah Post-Like so many confessing witches before her, Susannah added fuel to the fire by broadening the fear. She claimed she had been to a meeting in Parris’ field where she personally saw 200 witches.
Ann Foster– An accused witch who died in jail. Her son had to pay for her body in order to have her buried.
Friends in high places- People began to turn away from the trials when they witnessed the heartfelt last words of those being hanged, but the real ending was when important people began to be accused. Some of them were… Mrs. Thatcher was the Mother in Law of Magistrate Corwin, who presided over the examinations from the very first. Governor Bradstreet’s sons- Both of the sons of the ex-governor were accused. The wife of Jonathan Hale (popular minister of Beverly). Lady Phipps- Wife of the new governor
Confessing Witches-Once accused of being a witch, the best option seemed to be confession. Some people confessed, hoping to spare their lives and others confessed because they genuinely thought they might have done something to invite the Devil to use their form. Accused witches thought as hard as they could, remembering long ago arguments. Once a witch confessed, she was expected to name her accomplices, and there was no use saying there was no accomplice. Though there was some talk of hanging the confessing witches after they were no longer needed to testify against witches claiming innocence, all people who confessed escaped the melee with their lives.
The families of the accused– Different families had different reactions. Some washed their hands of their kin, believing them witches. Others, like that of Rebecca Nurse and her sisters, always stood by their family, maintaining their innocence, but powerless to do anything to stop the madness. Other families begged their loved ones to confess, whether they were witches, or not. Family members had to be careful, because if they protested too much they could be charged as witches.
Death Toll Bridget Bishop-Died June 10 by hanging. Sarah Good-Died July 19 by hanging. Elizabeth Howe-Died July 19 by hanging. Susannah Martin-Died July 19 by hanging. Rebecca Nurse-Died July 19 by hanging. Sarah Wildes-Died July 19 by hanging. George Burroughs-Died August 19 by hanging. Martha Carrier-Died August 19 by hanging. George Jacobs-Died August 19 by hanging. John Proctor-Died August 19 by hanging. John Willard-Died August 19 by hanging. Giles Corey-Died September 19 by pressing. Martha Corey-Died September 22 by hanging. Mary Easty-Died September 22 by hanging. Alice Parker-Died September 22 by hanging. Mary Parker-Died September 22 by hanging. Ann Prudeator-Died September 22 by hanging. Margaret Scott-Died September 22 by hanging. Wilmot Redd-Died September 22 by hanging. Samuel Wardrell-Died September 22 by hanging. Baby Good-Died some time before July 19 in prison. Sarah Osburn-Died while in prison on May 10. Roger Toothaker-Died in prison on June 16. Ann Foster-Died in prison on December 3. Lydia Dustin-Died in prison on March 10, 1963.
John Hathorne– The magistrate over the examinations. He comes through history as unyielding and caught up in the hysteria. He assumed all of the charged were guilty, and completely believed the afflicted girls, even when they were caught in a lie. Hathorne never offered an apology for his part in the death of 19 people, and his descendant, Nathaniel Hathorne, struggled with his relation to the man, even changing the spelling of his name to distance himself.
William Stoughton– Another political figure who allowed the trials to grow out of control. William Phipps, the new governor, was so dismayed by the events he wrote a letter back to the king claiming he was far away on business when the trials were going on and didn’t know what Stoughton was doing. There is clear evidence Phipps was in the area at the time and knew exactly what was going on. Stoughton never apologized or admitted he made a mistake.
George Corwin– The despicable sheriff who took all he could from the accused. Corwin wasted no time confiscating property, and though it was supposed to go to the state, Corwin split it up between himself and his friends.
Nicholas Noyes– He was the hard-hearted minister of Salem Town. He had Rebecca Nurse taken to his meetinghouse so he could publicly excommunicate her. At the hanging of Sarah Good he told her to repent and admit her sins. Sarah angrily informed him if he took away her life God would give him “blood to drink.” Noyes died while choking on his own blood. During the examination and trials, Noyes was merciless and unforgiving. Even long after the hysteria was over and the rest of the colony began to realize they made a mistake, Noyes still refused to show any sign of remorse. In 1712, Samuel Nurse was finally able to convince Noyes to “erase,” the excommunication of Rebecca Nurse.
Deodat Lawson was a past minster of Salem Village who came back during the trials to investigate claims that George Burroughs murdered his wife and daughter through witchcraft. Lawson tried to minster during the crisis, but his sermons were repeatedly interrupted by the afflicted and he seemed unsure of how to handle the situation. He kept notes on events that occurred during his stay.
William Procter– The son of John Procter and stepson to Elizabeth. He wasn’t one of the unlucky accused, but he was tortured in prison to get a confession. His father wrote a letter describing William’s torture, claiming the boy was tied neck to heels until blood “gushed from his nose.” He could have been held that way for 24 hours, but a jailor went to bat and untied him.
Mary Veren Putnam was mother to Thomas’s youngest brother, and ultimate rival, Joseph. When Thomas’ father died, he left everything to Mary and Joseph. Thomas fought the will in court and lost. Mary does not play a role in the story, but bore a resemblance to Rebecca Nurse.
Joseph Putnam never got along with his older half brother When the Putnam woman became afflicted, Joseph stormed to his brother’s house and warned that the nonsense better not touch his home or there would be Hell to pay.
Cotton Mather, famous and distinguished son of the President of Harvard, and somehow, during the time, the only American with any real title. The English Puritans were not so far removed from the “crown” that they did not, practice monarchy, and a son was just as good as a father in the days when a person could only do one thing at a time. Cotton’s father was away in London negotiating the new charter. Cotton was considered an expert on witchcraft, having dealt with it swiftly and securely with the hanging of one admitted witch, Goodwife Clover (a near rendition of Sarah Good). Not only was the evil witch stopped, but Cotton took the oldest child of the afflicted Goodwin family into his home, where she was promptly healed.
Increase Mather– The President of Harvard, and Cotton’s father. On October 3, Increase, sensing the growing doubt, began to speak out that it was better for 10 guilty witches to live than 1 innocent person die. Though his public words seemed to go against the opinion of his son, Increase denied a rift. According to Increase on October 3, “To take away the life of anyone, merely because a specter or Devil, in a bewitched or possessed person does accuse them, will bring the guilt of innocent blood upon the land.” Later, Increase noted he felt the magistrates and other people in power during the witch trials should be treated with “pity and prayer,” because, “they have acted with all fidelity according to their light.” Increase, ever the politician, tried to make everyone happy while still making himself look as if he was on the side of right.
Thomas Brattle– On October 8, Brattle wrote an eloquent, heartfelt opinion on the matter of the trials. He questioned spectral evidence, like everyone else, but also brought up the fact that Corwin’s mother in law wasn’t charged, and that certain people were allowed to escape while others weren’t. Brattle also spoke out against going by the testimony of confessed witches. In his words, “The devil’s information is the fundamental testimony that is gone upon.” Brattle’s letter made people begin to see what was really going on in black and white. He called the confessors, “distracted and crazed,” and he called the method to extract a confession, “dragooning.”
Calef– He wrote More Wonders of the Invisible World, a jab at Cotton, in 1697. Calef accused Cotton of being too affectionate to an afflicted girl before the witch trials (assumedly the Goodwin girl). Cotton responded by having Calef arrested for libel, but he never followed through.
Thomas Fisk– The foreperson of the jury for Rebecca Nurse’s trail. He felt so terribly for convicting Rebecca, he later signed a formal apology, saying the jury was, “for want of knowledge in ourselves, and better information from others.” In fact, after the trials, it seemed to be those who were least responsible who felt the worst about their part.
Joseph Green– Served Salem Village as minister after the hysteria. He was a great man who helped to heal a broken community. In 1703, Green personally had the excommunication of Martha Cory reversed. He also read Ann Putnam’s written apology out to the congregation.
The good people of Salem Village – There were a number of people in Salem who felt as if the girls just needed a good spanking, but to say so would be near suicide. It got to be any person who spoke up in defense of the accused would soon find themselves accused. People did stand up, though. Many families signed petitions on the behalf of some of the accused.
The Town of Andover got to thinking and decided they might have a witch infestation, too. Andover wasn’t lucky enough to have a “seeress” living in their town, so got official town money to pay for two of the girls to come and ferret out their witches. They would be brought into the room of an ailing person, and usually, they claimed to see a spirit at the victim’s head, and another at the foot of the bed. Since the girls had never seen any of these people and could not recognize any of the “shapes”, the “touch test,” was employed. Nearly 40 warrants were signed out in Andover that day, until the sheriff out and out refused to sign any more. The Town of Andover began to rethink its position, and wished it never invited those afflicted girls along, in the first place. From the very beginning the town’s minster questioned the accusations and did his best to quash the whole mess.
The town of Gloucester did not learn from Andover’s mistake, and called the afflicted girls in more than once, even after the hunt was beginning to fade.
The town of Ipswich wanted nothing to do with the afflicted girls. On the way to Gloucester, the girls saw an elderly lady walking across a bridge and began to go into a fit, claiming the lady was torturing them. The people of Ipswich let the girls know in no uncertain terms they weren’t welcome and best be on their way.
Krista Delle Femine-2009
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